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Kindergarten Math Readiness & The Cardinal Principle

Kindergarten math readiness

Something very interesting happens in the brains of young children when they reach age four, or thereabouts.  They start to understand “how many” items are in a set—and in particular, they begin to be able to differentiate sets of “four” items or more.  This ability signals that they have discovered “the cardinal principle,” the idea that the last number reached when counting the items in a set represents the entire set.

Of the many challenging concepts that preschoolers need to master for kindergarten math readiness, the cardinal principle is one of the harder ones, and it takes about a year to develop. It is a major milestone in a child’s mathematical development, after which the child is able to demonstrate a good understanding of “how many” in a variety of ways, such as matching sets of unlike items when the number of items in each set is the same.

Most parents believe that their child’s mathematical skills are developed largely by formal schooling, but research indicates that certain kinds of parent-child interactions in the preschool years, commonly referred to as “number talk,” are a primary driver of children’s mathematical ability through at least 5th grade. Number talk includes activities such as rote counting (counting “one, two, three, four,” as when playing hide and seek), counting tangible objects such as Cheerios (“one, two, three, four Cheerios”), and labeling the number of items in a set (“there are four Cheerios”).

As with verbal literacy, there is wide variation in the math knowledge of four year olds, with a one to two year gap between children who are more mathematically advanced and their less advanced peers.  Children with more exposure to number talk, and specifically to number talk about sets of four or more items, catch on to the cardinal principle faster than those who engage in less number talk or in number talk that focuses mostly on smaller sets of one to three items.

Unfortunately, few parents are informed about how kindergarten math readiness develops, and they tend not to know which math skills are developmentally appropriate for their child in the preschool years.  For example, parents often do not realize that their young child, who can easily count to 10, may not be able to identify a group of 10 objects.  Parents also tend to spend more time engaged in number talk around smaller sets of one to three items instead of larger sets of four and more, while the opposite has been shown to be more beneficial.

How to Encourage Kindergarten Math Readiness

There are simple things that parents and caregivers can do to help preschoolers learn about numbers and prepare for kindergarten math:

  • Ask children to count objects they can touch, such as Cheerios, pieces of cheese, or blocks, and objects they can see, like pictures of dogs on a page of the book Go, Dog. Go!
  • Label the number of items in sets of objects children use throughout the day.  For example, “You have six crayons.”
  • When counting tangible objects, label the number of items in the set, too, to point children toward the crux of the cardinal principle—that the last number counted represents the entire set of objects.  For example, “one, two, three, four crackers; you have four crackers.”
  • Talk about larger sets more often.  What children learn about larger sets helps them perform better on tasks involving smaller sets as well.
  • Expose children to age-appropriate, educational math games for preschoolers, such as the Eddy’s Number Party!™ game, a new iPad app from Scientific Learning that develops counting, number matching skills, and more.  The game, designed with cognitive scientists and educators, is based on research into how the brain learns.

Perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, public awareness of the importance of building preschool math literacy will match that of building preschool verbal literacy.  But for now, parents and caregivers who are in the know can begin to engage preschoolers with the right kinds of activities to give them an edge in developing the early childhood math skills needed for success throughout the elementary grades. 

I encourage you to try the some of the tips outlined above if you have young children of your own and to share this article with other parents of preschool-age kids, as we work together to raise our children’s opportunities for future success.

For further reading:

Gunderson, E. A., Levine, S. C., Some types of parent number talk count more than others: relations between parents’ input and children’s cardinal-number knowledge. Developmental science. 14:5 (2011), pp 1021–1032.

Related Reading:

Introducing the Eddy's Number Party! Game - the First iPad App from Scientific Learning

Still the Write Stuff: Why We Must Continue Teaching Handwriting

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Toddler Vocabulary Development: Shopping With Your Child

Vocabulary development

There is no better time to teach your toddler the names of things than when you go out shopping together. The wonderful thing about shopping with your child at a grocery store or clothing store is that he can sit in a shopping cart and interact with you while pointing to all the interesting colors, shapes and objects around him.

Never mind that as he gets closer to two years old he may want you to focus on the candy aisle, or buy everything fuzzy or toy-like.  Use the time to provide names for all the wonderful objects you can see.

 “Wow!  Look at these oranges today—they are so big. They look like big balls don’t they?”

“Hey, those peppers are green and red and yellow, just like Christmas lights—what fun!”

“I see blue shirts and white shirts. What color do you like?”

As you talk about all the shapes and colors, your tot will begin to want you to tell him more names. If he can’t ask you “What is that?” yet, he will start to point to objects he wants you to name or let him touch. (Of course you don’t want him touching fresh food items or knocking down items on shelves, but there is no harm in letting him feel a soft cloth or looking more closely at the funny picture on a box of cereal.)

Here are some tips for making shopping both fun and educational for your child:

  • Color, shape, and size: Notice colors, shapes, and sizes as you shop the fruit and vegetable aisle with your toddler. Tell your child that bananas are “long and yellow,” and that oranges, apples, limes and lemons look like “orange, red, green and yellow balls.” At the clothing store, “big pants” may be for “big daddy” and tiny shoes may be “just the right size” for your child.
  • Texture and touch:  Clothing stores are all about touch. PJ’s are usually “soft,” and raincoats are “smooth and stiff,” while some coats may be “furry.” Your child will love feeling all the different textures.
  • Questions: Note that celery has “leaves” and broccoli has “flowers.” Ask questions, “Why do you think cauliflower is named that way?” Point out that potatoes have “eyes” and wonder aloud, “Why do they have so many and we have only two?”
  • My shopping cart: Some grocery stores have begun offering small grocery carts for young children to push around. You may want to wait until your tot is two or a little older, but it can be fun to let him choose apples, oranges or boxed cereals and push them in his own cart. At home you can use empty boxes to “play store” on a rainy day.

You might hear yourself saying, “not today” or “not now” as your child wants you to add everything to your basket (or his), but giving him the opportunity to explore the world around him is a valuable experience for both of you.  You get to cross a few items off your to-do list, while your toddler works on vocabulary development through conversation and play, with his favorite person—you.

Related Reading:

The Magical Combination of Love and Limits: Tips for Teaching Positive Behavior

Story Strategies for Building the Best Bedtimes

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Building a Foundation for School Readiness for Low Income Children

School readiness

As educators with experience in child development, we understand the essential nature of being responsive to a child. Children who do not receive enough attention do not develop in the same way as those who receive consistent nurturing and feedback. Research has demonstrated how, at a physiological level – their brains simply wire themselves differently as they develop. This deficit in early childhood experiences often manifests itself as developmental delays across a wide spectrum of behaviors. These behavioral delays appear in parallel with delays in brain development.

Imagine a child growing up in a home where sensitive, responsive caregiving is rare. Maybe mom and/or dad work more hours and are simply not available. Maybe they come home too tired to read or play or simply snuggle with the child. Or, this is an environment where sensitive, responsive nurturing is not valued very highly. While it is not the case in every situation like this, at its extreme, the parent or parents may be truly neglecting the child’s needs at this early stage. Even moderate differences in these important parent-child interactions have important longer-term consequences for development.

Research has shown that in these situations a child’s brain development quickly gets derailed. Children who do not receive enough of what is known as “sensitive-response caregiving” and cognitive stimulation do not develop executive function skills as readily as their counterparts in more caring, stimulating environments. (Lengua et al., 2007; Li-Grining, 2007) In other words, children may not be encouraged to be aware of and interact with the world around them (cognitive stimulation). They also may not be encouraged to engage or develop planning, decision-making or troubleshooting skills (executive function).

Executive functions, also known as “domain-general” functions, are those called upon in various types of learning opportunities; these include such functions as working memory, regulation of emotions and attentional control. On the other hand, a “domain-specific” cognitive process is one that represents a specific skill or skill area, such as reading or counting.

But what are the implications as children grow and enter school? Recently, a team of researchers led by Janet Welsh at Penn State studied readiness for school in a group of Head Start children and how certain cognitive processes were associated with the development of certain skills. Specifically, they studied the relationship between domain-general and domain-specific cognitive processes in these low-income pre-kindergartners, and tracked them through kindergarten.

Welsh‘s study showed that skills scaffolded consistently from one level to the next, and these skill levels represented good indicators of how well the child would develop the next set of skills. In other words, good working memory and attention control predicted the development of early literacy and numeracy skills, and these skills were predictors of later math and reading achievement.

Whether through experience in the home, great work in the pre-kindergarten classroom and/or support from computer-based learning exercises, it is clearly essential that we support the early development of domain-general cognitive skills as early and as strongly as possible.

While this may seem obvious, Welsh’s research underscores the essential nature of laying a foundation in those executive functions, those domain-general cognitive abilities, for each and every student – but especially for those at an economic disadvantage if we are to close the gaps and truly offer the same opportunities to every student.

Read the full study: The Development of Cognitive Skills and Gains in Academic School Readiness for Children From Low-Income Families, Janet A. Welsh, Robert L. Nix, Clancy Blair, Karen L. Bierman, and Keith E. Nelson. Journal of Educational Psychology, 2010, Volume 102, Number 1, p. 43-53.

For further reading:    

Family Involvement in School and Low-Income Children's Literacy Performance, Eric Dearing, Holly Kreider, Sandra Simpkins, and Heather Weiss. Harvard Family Research Project. January 2007.

Early Care and Education for Children in Low-Income Families Patterns of Use, Quality, and Potential Policy Implications, Gina Adams, Kathryn Tout, and Martha Zaslow. Prepared for the Urban Institute and Child Trends. January 2006, revised May 2007.

The impact of poverty on educational outcomes for children, HB Ferguson, S Bovaird, and MP Mueller. Paediatr Child Health. October 2007. 12(8): 701–706.

Related Reading:

Building Unstructured Play Into the Structure of Each Day

Lifelong Learning and the Plastic Brain

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Changing the Culture of Poverty by Doing Whatever It Takes

Recently, while driving down the street, I saw this billboard:

Harlem Safe Zone

While that may be a bit extreme, education has been evolving to better meet the needs of today's students, since many children have not been successful with the system employed in years past.  Oftentimes, the majority of these students ‘lost in the system’ were those born into poverty.

Research studies done over the last few decades on the impact of poverty on learning have established that the majority of children born into low income families enter school significantly behind their more affluent peers in language1, cognitive skills (memory, attention, etc.) and noncognitive skills (patience, ability to follow directions, self confidence, etc.)2, as well as general learning experiences. Even with special programs designed to develop and strengthen these skills, the improvements typically last only as long as the programs; there is little long-term impact on academic success without ongoing effort and support systems in place.

Geoffrey Canada was a child who began life in poverty, but his situation was unique--he had an educated mother who was determined to keep her children out of the typical downward spiral of failure. Canada determined to do something that would impact children in poverty and his efforts have been chronicled in the book Whatever It Takes by Paul Tough.

Canada's target area has been central Harlem.  From the start, he knew that significant changes had to be made in family practices from birth and beyond to give these children a chance at success. He believed that if he began with the final outcome he wanted to achieve, and then determined what was needed to realize that goal, he could create a process to change the cycle of poverty.  With the help of many people, he has created a continuous, cohesive and comprehensive system designed to change the overall culture of the area.  This neighborhood ‘safety net’ is called the Harlem Children’s Zone.

The Harlem Children’s Zone began with efforts to improve parenting skills that would help mothers and fathers work on educational skills with their infants and toddlers.  Over time, additional programs have been added to provide extensive support from birth to kindergarten so these children would be prepared for school in a way that few Harlem children had ever been in the past.  For children that have reached “school age”, the provision of extra time in the classroom to focus on individual needs has set the Harlem Children’s Zone apart from other well-meaning efforts.  And now, the Harlem Children’s Zone model has moved beyond Harlem, with New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announcing last week that some of his state’s cities will begin using Canada’s community-based approach.

Children who learn critical skills at an early age are better able to master more complex skills later.  The best way to escape poverty is through education, and that education must begin at birth – or before.  The Harlem Children’s Zone has shown that if you provide the key skills needed to offset the disadvantages of a child’s birthplace, you may be able to remove the seemingly insurmountable obstacles seen in the cycle of poverty of the past.  Truly, we all must be willing to do whatever it takes.

References:

Paul Tough, Whatever It Takes: Geoffrey Canada’s Quest to Change Harlem and America (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2009)

1 Betty Hart and Todd R. Risley, Meaningful Differences in the Everyday Experience of Young American Children (Baltimore: P.H. Brookes, 1995). 

2 James Heckman, “Lessons from the Bell Curve,” Journal of Political Economy 103, no. 5 (October 1995).

Related Reading:

Limiting Young Children’s Screen Time for Long-Term Health

Engaging Children in the World with Words

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The Magical Combination of Love and Limits: Tips for Teaching Positive Behavior

Teaching positive behavior

Young children have so much to learn about life.  One crucial skill they work very hard at learning is how to get what they want or need in a positive way. 

Toddlers do not have very much control and for the most part cannot “think out” appropriate ways to handle frustration or anger. Your little one year old will act impulsively when he is angry with you or other children and may use inappropriate or unacceptable behaviors in response. This often becomes even more exaggerated when your child is tired. The calm, consistent and measured way that you and other caregivers respond to negative behaviors will shape your child’s ability to gradually develop self-control and learn appropriate ways to handle stressful social situations.  

Hitting and biting, as well as pushing, throwing toys, books, sand or mud, and yelling or temper outbursts continue to be treated as unacceptable behaviors you want to handle by enforcing time-outs immediately after the event occurs. Waiting even a few minutes to enforce a time-out makes it difficult for a toddler to understand what the time-out is for. Once your child has calmed down you can bring her back into the situation she was removed from. As she plays appropriately you can provide a little praise to help her understand the difference between positive behaviors and her prior unacceptable behavior.

By 18-20 months of age, begin to teach your toddler the word “sorry” so that if she does show an unacceptable behavior toward another child or an adult, she learns to pair an apology to the offended person with the behavior.  This provides a verbal scaffold with the action so that the child is building language to help his learning.  

You may often find that because of your fatigue and frustration with a young child who does not yet have very much self control you become tempted to yell or spank your child. You are human just as is your child and these are natural tendencies.  But, try to avoid yelling at your child or resorting to slaps, shaking or spanking in response to a negative behavior. By using a calm but firm voice with your toddler and the consistent response of moving your child to a quiet area removed from the current situation (time-out) you will model the kind behavior you are trying to instill in your child and give him, and yourself, time to calm down.

If your toddler seems to show temper outbursts very frequently or does not respond to timeouts and the undesirable behaviors continue, consult your physician to rule out physical problems that might be causing pain or discomfort. If those do not seem likely or have been ruled out, you may want to consult with a behavior specialist. These professionals can help you develop consistent, constructive approaches for managing the behavior of your toddler. A few sessions with a good child behavior specialist could save you time and money in the future if the negative behaviors persist or increase during the toddler years.

As your child progresses through the first year, continue to set limits for special types of play activity and behaviors that might be appropriate in some situations but not in others. For example, a child needs to have plenty of exercise but there are situations where your child may have to sit still. A dentist’s chair, the first haircut, airplane take-offs and landings are situations where your child needs to limit physical activity. Similarly, restaurants and other public places provide excellent opportunities to teach your child polite behavior and consideration of others. There are situations where it is acceptable to play with toys and others where it might not be, like a church service or solemn occasion, for example.

Setting limits teaches your toddler to be considerate and thoughtful of others and helps build social skills.  When your toddler learns how to use constructive behaviors to reach her goals, she will feel happier and more in control, and so will you.

Related Reading:

Traveling with a Toddler

Early Learning Success Leads to a Leg Up in Life

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Limiting Young Children’s Screen Time for Long-Term Health

Limiting screen time

Technology, in the form of videos, television, computers, tablets, and video games increasingly dominates our entertainment time.  In the United States, there are videos and other technology products available for children as young as a few months old. For many, as soon as babies have the coordination to sit up by themselves, we have them looking to screens for entertainment. The success of these videos geared towards babies and toddlers speaks to our growing parental dependence upon screens to entertain our children.

The problem is that, while this media does entertain our children and can even be educational, too much can create serious, lasting issues. According to the Mayo Clinic, too much screen time can lead to obesity, irregular sleep, behavioral problems, reduced play time (obviously), and other problems. (See Children and TV: Limiting your child's screen time, Mayo Clinic.)

So, living in this modern, media-addicted world, what are some ways to that we can mediate appropriate access to technology?

 

  1. Limit time. Pediatricians recommend that toddlers continue to limit TV time and exposure to baby videos.  A little time each day (1/2 hour to an hour), especially before dinner, when your child may become cranky or your need to do chores or prepare the meal, will probably not be detrimental.
  2. Choose educational content. Try to find age appropriate educational programming on PBS. Public broadcast companies work very hard with child development experts to make certain their content is appropriate and beneficial for young audiences.
  3. Avoid highly commercial programming. This is a tough one, but the commercials on network television can “glorify” toys that your child really does not need, and create expectations around “buying” new toys that are neither necessary nor constructive for your child. As your child gets older and plays with other children, which you do want to encourage, he will probably be exposed to plenty of commercial television. This is your chance to keep it to a minimum, at least in these formative young years. 
  4. Unplug your toddler to free their creativity. Try to avoid toddler computers and electronic books for children this age. A one to two year old needs to master walking, running and climbing as well as speech and language. Electronic books, toys and games do so much on their own that they leave little opportunity for your child to “invent” new ways to play with them or new things to do.

In the grander scheme, it comes down to a question of time. Every minute of childhood spent in front of a screen is a minute not spent doing other things. Imagine what those “other things” could be: playing outside; riding a bike; building a castle out of rocks and twigs; reading a book; creating a piece of art.

The more mindfully we can help our children manage their time when it comes to screens and how that balances with their other activities, the better off they will be in the long run.

Related Reading:

Fun Science Experiments for Classroom or Home

Fit Bodies Make Fit Brains: Physical Exercise and Brain Cells

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Engaging Children in the World with Words

Engaging children

As we all know, the rudimentary elements of language are established at the earliest ages. From a baby’s first months, they instinctively begin listening and forming the neurological groundwork for what will become their abilities to understand language, as well as speak and read.

While there are numerous studies around the topic, I’d like to take you through a simple series of imaginary scenarios to demonstrate the importance of this point—for children as well as for those of us in charge of their learning.

First, imagine the world from the baby’s point of view. They observe, see the shapes and colors around them, and as they do, they hear the voices of their parents, and they begin associating certain sounds with the surrounding world. Now, imagine how the understanding of that process—as a teaching tool in the hands of a conscientious parent—can shape that child’s abilities from the earliest of ages.

Scenario 1: A parent—let’s call her Jane—is walking down the street, slowly because she is holding her young toddler’s hand. Suddenly, a loud siren screams and around the corner comes a gleaming fire engine. Jane quickly points to it, looks into her child’s concerned eyes, smiles and says, "Loud!" As the fire engine goes by, it splashes through a great puddle in the road, spraying the two with water. Jane says, smiling and laughing, "Ohhh, no! Wet! We got wet!" Jane’s child begins to smile and laugh, too.

Scenario 2: Another parent, Carol, has her child in a stroller and is walking at a brisk clip. She is conducting business with the cell phone in one hand and is pushing the stroller with the other. They are enjoying the sunshine, and the child is calmly, quietly watching the world go by. Suddenly, a loud siren screams and around the corner comes a gleaming fire engine. Carol says, "Oh, darn it. Can you hold on a sec?" into her phone. Her child, startled by the loud noise, begins to sob, but Carol doesn’t know it because she’s watching the fire engine pass and can’t hear her child because of the siren. As the fire engine goes by, it splashes through a great puddle in the road, spraying the two with water. Carol, with fury and frustration in her voice, says, "DARN IT! Can I call you back later? I just got soaked." By this time, Carol is genuinely angry and her child is wholeheartedly crying.

In these brief images, with so much playing out in terms of outward attitudes and reactions to circumstances, and we can even look ahead to possible bonding issues. But let’s think specifically about language. What has the child—as well as the parent—in scenario one gained and the child in scenario two lost?

While Carol’s child has witnessed frustration and fear in the face of incoming stimulus, Jane’s child has experienced the world through a comforting, loving, happy interpretive filter. In short, we cannot underestimate the importance of simply being engaged with the children in our lives. As teachers, encouraging the parents we encounter to be as connected and involved in their children’s lives as early as possible.

Related Reading:

The Speech and Language Connection: The Nursery Rhyme Effect (Part 1)

Let’s Get Engaged!

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Goodnight Room: Story Strategies for Building the Best Bedtimes

Routine sleep habits

Remember Good Night Moon by Margaret Wise Brown? When I think of this book, I think about how the bunny is snuggled into bed, toys put a way, moon peeking in through the window, and everyone and everything is whispering “good night.” I’ve noted that the “old lady whispering hush” is rocking in her chair far across the room, and the book The Runaway Bunny sits on the bedside table; story time has ended for this little bunny and now it’s time for sleep.

Everything is perfect and quiet. What might the perfect story time have looked like in that “good night room” 15 minutes before the book opens? First of all, the old lady would have been sitting much closer, maybe on the edge of the bed. And her soft, clear voice would be helping that little bunny not only relax, but learn to love books as well as solidify the rudiments of language.

Whenever possible, make a consistent habit of 15-30 minutes each evening to tell or read stories before bed. Just as it did for your child at a year of age, for your tot it will serve two purposes: quiet him down and prepare him for sleep, as well as introduce the repetition of words and sentence forms that build the school-important left hemisphere. As your two-year old begins to develop a love of specific books or stories, you will have a wealth of material to settle her down on car and plane trips where sitting still for long periods is mandatory.

And remember, a bedroom is usually the quietest room in a home. All the soft materials (the bedding, window coverings, rugs, and even “goodnight socks and bears”) actually absorb what hearing specialists call ambient noise, rendering your speech clearer and easier to perceive.  Reading in this quiet room helps your child learn to discriminate the subtle differences in speech sounds. As a bonus, if you read or tell stories to your tot in the bedroom, where you will be sitting right next to him, you will be providing the best speech signal available.  The easy rule I use to describe this is, “An arms span, from mouth to ear, makes sure all bunnies’ hearing is clear.”

It probably doesn’t matter what stories you tell or read. It is the natural clarity of the speech signal that occurs in a ”goodnight room,” the repetition that results from your child’s own preference for certain stories, and the closeness and attention that the child receives from the most important people in her life that make this short period of the day so important to your child. And, it goes without saying that the benefit to you will be that after this small investment of time, you will have some time to yourself to relax, read, enjoy a favorite television show, or just interact with your spouse.

Related Reading:

Creating Reading Intention to Improve Reading Comprehension Skills in Students

Sleep: An Essential Ingredient for Memory Function

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How Much Sleep Do Children Need?

Children's Sleep

Sleep is essential to health and well-being as well as performance in work and play. Sleep and wake cycles appear to be regulated by the brain. And, although sleep allows for renewal of organs of body, it is also vital to cognitive skills in children and adults. Just a small amount of sleep deprivation affects performance for days thereafter.

There are two kinds of sleep that adults and children cycle through during the night, non-rapid eye movement sleep (NREMS) which accounts for about 80% of sleep and occurs more frequently during the first half of the night and rapid eye movement sleep (REMS) that accounts for the other 20% as is more prevalent during the second half of the night.. Rapid eye movement occurs when we dream as our eyes dart back and forth under our closed eyelids. Despite this complex nature of sleep performance during the day is dependent on the total number of hours of sleep.[i]

Children need much more sleep than adults and it is important that they have schedules and an environment that conducive to adequate sleep. There is a great deal of scientific evidence regarding the importance of sleep to the developing brain yet our nations’ children are not getting enough.

The National Sleep Foundation (NSF) conducted a Poll in 2004 to determine the amount of sleep our nations’ children are receiving and factors that are affecting the quantity and quality of sleep our children receive.[ii]  In general they found that our nations’ children from birth through adolescence are sleep deprived: infants are getting one to two hours per day less sleep than experts recommend and toddlers through school aged children average from one half hour to two hours less per day.

Expert recommendations are provided below with U.S. averages in parentheses.

  • 14-15 hours sleep per day for children aged 3-11 months  ( U.S. infants average is 12.7)
  • 12-14 hours of sleep a day for children aged 1-3 years (U.S. toddlers average 11.7)
  • 11-13 hours per day for children aged 3-5 children  (U.S. preschoolers average 10.4) 
  • 10-11 hours for 1st through 5th grades children (U.S. children average 9.5)  

Children who do not get adequate sleep are more likely to develop problems getting to sleep and staying asleep at night. But most important, when children do not get adequate sleep experts report that, unlike adults who act lethargic during the day, children exhibit hyperactivity.

Two problems that experts say decrease the amount of sleep children get are consumption of caffeine during the day and having a television in the bedroom. The poll conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 43% of school-aged children, 30% of preschoolers and 18-20% of infants and toddlers have televisions in their rooms.

Another reason some children have trouble staying asleep is sleep apnea (brief stoppage of airflow at night that causes a child to awake). Doctors and parents may not suspect sleep is being affected by snoring because children do not exhibit the same behaviors as adults when they get insufficient sleep. Unlike adults suffering from sleep apnea who complain of fatigue and sleepiness, children may exhibit hyperactivity and aggressive behavior. So parents should tell their pediatricians if their child snores or wakes frequently during the night but also check for sleep deprivation when their child is showing increased activity or aggressive behavior that seems out of character for the child.

Related Reading:

The Imperative of Cultivating Healthy Adolescent Sleep Habits

Sleep: An Essential Ingredient for Memory Function

[i] Kruger, J.M., Rector, D.M., Roy, S., Van Dongen, H.P.A., Belenky, G. and Panksepp, J. (2008) Sleep as a fundamental property of neuronal assemblies. Nature Reveiws Neuroscience. 9, 12, 910-919

[ii] The National Sleep Foundation website contains a paper which summarizes the 2004 poll.www.sleepfoundation.org.

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The Speech and Language Connection: The Nursery Rhyme Effect (Part 2)

nursery rhymes as a teaching tool

In my November blog post, I shared information about how speech and language develop and also spoke about the importance of nursery rhymes.  This month, we are going to continue the discussion about the teaching tools of nursery rhymes for young children.

Sounds are one of the many teaching tools of nursery rhymes. They also teach word order, grammar, and rhythm. Each of the content words– Peter, Piper pickled, peppers, picked, and peck are repeated four times each. But to build an appreciation of the flexibility of word order, each repetition puts the words in a different position.  The subject noun Peter Piper, is repeated four times in the subject noun position, but two of those times it comes early in a phrase and twice it comes later. Pickled peppers, an object noun phrase, occurs twice after the verb pick, which is what we would expect, and twice before the verb. These are all grammatical sentences, so the child is not being exposed to language that is incorrect or inappropriate. But what a joy for a child, who is trying desperately to learn how to order words into sentences, to realize that part of the joy of language is the variety and flexibility. Language is not just about meaning (how many two years olds care about what at “peck” is) but about sound, rhythm, rhyming, and variation.

                Little Miss Muffet

                Sat on a tuffet

                Eating her curds and whey

                Along came a spider

                Who sat down beside her

                And frightened Miss Muffet away

In this nursery rhyme different, but at the same time early sound patterns are emphasized. The phoneme /m/ is one of the easiest for a child to produce and in this rhyme is contrasted with the /s/ in spider and  sat as well as the /t/.which ends sat and starts and ends tuffet. Never mind that the average two or three year old will have no idea what the words tuffet, curds, or whey actually mean. Nursery rhymes are not so much about vocabulary as they are about the rules of combining sounds into words, rhyming, and alliteration (all prerequisite to phonological awareness which is going to lead to the ability to phonically decode words in a few years.) That fact that our language contains words we do not understand does not limit our ability to enjoy language. And introducing your youngster to that knowledge will enhance her curiosity about words and the magic of language.

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